far too much writing, far too many photos

Yesterday morning, Saturday: awoke around 4 a.m. to the sound of people still hanging out at the plaza down the street. Curious, I got up, opened a window, leaned out, took a gander down at the street — clusters of people stood around the end of the plaza I can see from here, talking, laughing. Other folks passed in both directions along the street in front of this building. Including two separate individuals with luggage — large duffels slung over their shoulders, large bags being carried by hand. A block to the other side of the plaza, people were gathered around the door to the Black & White, a club.

The night air felt cool on my skin, a light breeze blew. On impulse, I turned on the TV. All local channels were broadcasting, including a news program on one of the main stations.

Went back to bed. A few minutes later, around 4:10, a musician began playing — loudly — for the stragglers in the plaza, continuing for five or ten minutes. After which everything quieted down for the night.

My landlords have lived in or around Madrid for many years. When I first looked at this piso, they told me that ten short years ago this barrio was a working-class neighborhood. A enclave of families. Apparently, the changes that have surged through the area have taken a lot of them by surprise. During the last decade, younger folks moved in, folks of a more artsy, bohemian bent. Gays began moving in, in numbers large enough to impact the feel and look of the area. And why not? It’s safe, it’s packed with bars, restaurants, little shops of all kinds, from the pedestrian and practical to the expensively trendy.

La Plaza de Chueca sits in the heart of the barrio, surrounded on all three sides by cafés, small markets and tiendas, bars — a street runs along the north edge of the plaza, on the other side sits a tapas bar, more small stores. All of that at street level. Above are apartments with balcones facing out onto the plaza. By day, people of all ages and social stripes pass through. Many come and go from the Metro station, others sit on concrete benches that line one side of the plaza, reading newspapers, talking, a few drinking. Kids run through the space or kick soccer balls around, folks with bags of groceries walk through. By late to mid-afternoon during the warm season, the bars have started dragging out chairs and tables, setting them up in long rows. As the sun moves to the west and late-afternoon shadows extend across the space, people begin planting themselves at the tables, singly, in pairs, in small groups. From there the crowd slowly accumulates, the ambient noise becomes a continual murmur, ebbing and flowing until the evening hours when more and more people are drawn to the barrio’s nighttime scene.

This last spring, during Gay Pride (Orgullo Gay) weekend — a major happening in Chueca — a bandstand was set up at the street end of the plaza one evening, a concert got underway. Huge crowds gathered, bands played at ear-busting volume all through the night. And for families that have lived here for many years, the more traditional kinds of families, the neighborhood’s metamorphosis into a kind of party central finally became intolerable. Many went to the Madrid city council and complained, enough that some of the tables and chairs were removed from the plaza. Banners appeared on many of the balcones that ring the plaza, all reading “VIVIMOS AQUI — CONTROLA EL RUIDO” (WE LIVE HERE — CONTROL THE NOISE). I haven’t been a neighborhood resident long enough to be able to say how much effect this has had on the evening noise level. Come midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., the plaza is still crowded with people hanging out More banners have appeared just recently, and a for-sale sign (”se vende piso”) materialized on one of the balcones just above the plaza’s ground level.

Yesterday morning around 9 a.m., when I finally got up and glanced outside, I saw that during the night more posters had appeared on the wall across from this building, enough to leave it more or less half-covered. When I returned home from seeing a film yesterday afternoon, that had increased to two-thirds of the surface area.

In my travels through the area over the last couple of days, I’ve noticed vacant walls stenciled with the legend “PROHIBIDO FIJAR CARTELES — RESPONSIBLE EMPRESA ANUNCIADO” (loosely, POST NO BILLS — THE ANNOUNCED BUSINESS IS RESPONSIBLE). Those walls seem to remain untouched by posters.

This morning I awoke around four. During a quick trip to the bog, I could hear the continuing sounds of Saturday night revelry. When I woke again at six, they were still at it, but it faded soon after. By 8:30, the city cleaning crews were out, a group of three cleaners sweeping and hosing down the plaza and the nearby street. They tend to talk loudly back and forth, these crews, so that while they’re doing the neighborhood a service by hoovering up the detritus of the weekend’s bacchanalia, they make it hard for people kept awake all night to sleep in. But then the Spaniards seem to take amused pride in their reputation for noise.

The wall across from my building is now almost completely covered with posters. As the countless teeny dogs owned by the neighborhood residents are taken on their walks, they lift their legs and spray the lowermost ads, same as with the previous crop. And life in Chueca continues.

********

A great book: Love and Longing In Bombay — Vikram Chandra

Three great films:
You Can Count On Me — [U.S. -- Written and directed by
Kenneth Lonergan, with Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo and
Matthew Broderick; Winner, Best Film, Best Original
Screenplay, Sundance Festival 2000]
The Filth and The Fury — [U.K. -- Documentary re: The Sex
Pistols by Julien Temple (includes a seriously great live
version of God Save The Queen)]
Under the Sand — [France -- Written and directed by
Francois Ozon, with Charlotte Rampling]

****************

Went to lunch today at a neighborhood restaurant/cafetería, did the menú del día: two courses, with a drink (a beer, a bottle of wine or a bottle of water, with or w/out carbonation), bread, and dessert or coffee. Here in Chueca, most of the joints that serve this charge around 1,000 pesetas for the meal -– maybe $5.50, American — the quality of the food generally pretty good, sometimes extremely good. Some establishments with upscale aspirations use cloth napkins and tablecloths, attempting to provide more ambience than the run of the mill joint. Charging more, of course. And what the hell — the food’s good, the atmosphere’s nice. And after all, we’re not talking about a huge amount of money here — maybe 1200 or 1400 ptas, occasionally 1500 or 1600. Seven or eight bucks for a nice lunch, complete.

I adore it when someone prepares a meal for me, and most of the local joints are great studies in the culture and the local folk — it’s a combo that gets me eating out a lot.

Less places do the menú del día thing on weekends, especially Sundays when most businesses are closed. Meaning the few open joints are generally busy. When I entered the place today — la Cafetería Vivares — there were no free tables but also no one waiting ahead of me. The bar and a few tables were in the front room. I started to make my way through there toward the rear dining room when the camarero asked me to hold off until a table became free. Standing right by a free stool at the bar, I noticed a couple of other individuals at the bar eating, asked if I could dine there, got a “Pues, sí, sí, claro,” in return. I parked my butt, ordered, settled down to watch the scene.

The guy behind the bar gave me a caña — a small beer — and a snack of two small fish, breaded. But when I say two small fish, I mean the entire fish. A couple of inches long — head, eyes, tail, maybe the innards, too. Don’t know, didn’t check that out. Just ignored ‘em.

Fútbol has recommenced here as of yesterday after several days of cancelled games due to mourning for the fallen in New York and D.C., and concerns re: security in the wake of all that. A TV mounted up near the ceiling near the door began showing a recap, most attention turned there, especially when the results of the Real Madrid game came on, a shameful defeat for Madrid (Betis, 3 – Real Madrid, 1).

The mix of people in the room cut across the spectrum, missing only persons of truly advanced years. Couples, attractively-dressed women, gays (all men in their 30’s, in similar garb). Behind the bar worked the bartender, a mid-30’s Spaniard, and a good-natured 20-something woman — South American, though from where exactly I couldn’t say. Her features looked to be a mix of European and Indian, she had an attractive, toothy smile and dimples. A woman who looked to be her sister worked in the rear dining room, appearing periodically to pick up plates of food, at which time two strikingly similar-looking women faced each other across the bar. At a couple of points, my eyes met hers, we exchanged smiles.

My first course arrived, cream of carrot soup — surprisingly good. I inhaled it, set immediately to work on the second course the nanosecond it appeared, a breast of chicken. More people had entered the restaurant, the number of those waiting for tables mounted. The television showed a report on La Vuelta 2001, the Spanish version of the Tour de France. Yesterday was the 8th stage, today is the 9th. At the end they ride through Madrid, something I experienced last year, out one afternoon with a local woman. We passed through la Plaza de España, saw that traffic had been blocked off from Gran Vía. We stood talking, within minutes cyclists came flying down the avenue — a six-lane street that cuts through the center of Madrid, flanked on both sides by stores, restaurants, theaters, grand buildings. They made the turn at the near corner of the plaza, flew past, moving toward Principe Pio and out of sight.

On the walk home from lunch, I passed a business I’ve noticed before, stopped to peer in the window for a minute. A droguería/pinturería — a drugstore/paint store. Vending drugs, paint and painting supplies. Housepaint, as far as I can see, not fine arts supplies. What gave birth to this unholy combo? Who knows? Who cares? It’s brilliant!

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